25 Jan 2020
22nd July 2019
JET Spotlight: Vanessa Villalobos
Vanessa Villalobos was an ALT in Tochigi City in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo. She has built two businesses out of her experience on JET: an English tutoring agency for Japanese people in London, and a Japanese tutoring agency to connect Londoners with Japanese teachers.
She told JETAA UK how she became an entrepreneur and the other ways JET has shaped her life since.
1. What inspired you to join the JET Programme?
When I was a teen, my parents went to Japan on business and came back with marvellous things like: coffee-flavoured gum, a carved wooden bear from Hokkaido, seaweed snacks and Mikimoto pearl brooches. I was fascinated. They said, if you ever have the chance to go to Japan, go for it!
2. How did you find your experiences as a JET?
When I went to Japan, it was the pre-smartphone era and this probably made it feel even more like stepping into the unknown! I loved the whole adventure, from day one. It was an intense learning experience; quickly adapting and making a good impression was crucial for me, as I was a ‘one-shot’ ALT (not based at one school), riding my mama-chari though the rice fields to visit about 15 different primary and middle schools. Being part of the community in Tochigi-shi, teaching adults and children English, as well learning about Japanese language and culture, was a massive privilege which has actually shaped my whole life ever since.
3. What have you been doing since finishing JET?
I did a CELTA TEFL certificate, taught English in Peru for about a year and a half, then returned to London and did a PGCE in Secondary English. Finding teaching in London schools to be ‘not my cup of tea’ I started IsshoniLondon.co.uk – an English tutoring agency for Japanese people in London. Through this work I’ve met wonderful people in the Japanese students and tutors (often ex-JETs) I have worked with.
4. How do you think your current role can further UK-Japan ties?
Alongside IsshoniLondon.co.uk, I run JapaneseLondon.com – a Japanese tutoring agency to connect learners with private native-speaking Japanese tutors in London, at any level. Ahead of the 2020 Olympics, my message is that a just a little Japanese is a whole lot better than none! That is, I am strongly encouraging people with planned trips to Japan to learn as much as they can about the language and culture before they go. There are key phrases and customs to learn that will transform their trip – and possibly their whole life!
5. What are your professional and personal Japan-related goals?
JapaaneseLondon.com is also a hub for discovering Japan – in London. There is a blog about where to get/do/see/eat/learn everything Japanese in London, plus an events calendar (I love to feature independent businesses & creatives). You can also sign up for JapaneseLondon.com's newsletter here.
I’m planning to launch some courses and events, along with a membership community, by 2020 – for those who aren’t looking for a Japanese tutor, but would like to learn more practical ways to bring Japanese language and culture into their everyday life in the UK.
6. What did you learn or discover during JET that you've taken into your life and career?
Everything! I deeply value the things that I learned on JET – patience, how to be professional and rise to challenges. I think ex-JETs make great entrepreneurs, too!